NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — On average every week, 750,000 files of child sexual abuse material are discovered by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Around the clock and across the world, criminal communications find protection in a platform known as the dark net.
“Almost anyone can get on the dark net now, but you have to take proactive steps to do so. You can’t stumble into the dark net. You can’t stumble into a child exploitation board,” said Jim Cole, the Supervisory Special Agent for Homeland Security Investigations.
He explained purposeful high-level encryption makes it nearly impossible to detect a user’s identity or location on the dark web.
“It was developed by the U.S. government, believe it or not, for an entirely different purpose,” said Cole. “It was created so that sources in other countries could communicate without being detected by their own intelligence service. And on top of that, to provide a mechanism for free speech because you have journalists and people who are trying to speak out in certain countries who are not allowed to.”
Criminals cracked the code using the dark net as the perfect host for people with pedophilia.
“You have to become a member and establish a user name. You have to establish a password. You have to log in,” explained Cole.
Once inside, he explined, “It’s usually a forum like a bulletin board-type forum with threads and member discussions. You have to find out the addresses for these boards based on what you’re interested in. Unlike the open net where you can just go and Google a site, the dark net doesn’t have a web crawler that sorts all the sites.”
It’s a platform visited by people from all walks of life.
“I have arrested everyone from CEO’s from Fortune 500 companies, a vice president of a major Fortune 50 company, all the way down to someone who was even homeless and everything in between.”
Cole said all were committing sex crimes involving innocent children.
“This was a pandemic before pandemic was in our common vernacular. Absolutely. And those of us who have been living that have been trying to shout that from the hills. But, few listen.”
News 2 investigates the alarming crime trend now coming to light in Middle Tennessee after the COVID-19 pandemic. In a special report, Darkest Secret, learn more about the fight to stop child pornography and what it truly entails – Click here for our special reports.